e-zine files: Emotional Eating or Diet Backlash?

diet backlashFrom this week’s e-zine.

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On a recent recent road trip I decided to give a listen to the audio book version of Intuitive Eating by Tribole &Resch.  Intuitive Eating is an excellent book and has been a major influence on how I view food and eating and I recommend it to anyone who is looking to build a more positive relationship with food.  In the audio book I was struck by commentary on the importance of being aware of diet backlash eating masquerading as emotional eating and I thought I would bring the discussion here.

I think many of us are aware of the concept of emotional eating, when food is used as a tool to comfort us and sometimes as a way to hide from difficult emotions.  Most people engage in some form of emotional eating, which can be normal part of our relationship with food.  Emotional eating becomes a problem when it is the only coping mechanism that we have for dealing with life’s problems, leading to chronic overeating and subsequent embarrassment and shame.  Sadly the shame aspect of emotional eating can be so painful that the emotional eater will end up in a viscous cycle as they turn to food to cope with the shame of over-eating.

However, many people who assume they are engaging in emotional eating are actually over-eating because of what we refer to as ‘diet backlash’.  These are behaviours with food that result the pressures of dieting, or living in a world that is obsessed with dieting.  It is important to understand the distinction between the two.

Some examples of Diet Backlash Eating:

  • “I ate those Oreos and they are bad for me.  I may as well eat the rest of the bag because I will won’t be eating Oreos ever again!” – an example of the “Last Supper” mentality when anticipation of food denials prompts us to get it ‘while we can’.
  • “Damn, I ate way too many carbs today.  Oh well, since I’ve already blown it, I may as well order a pizza for supper”.  An example of the win or lose dichotomous thinking of many dieters.  We’ve either been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and when we ‘fail’ and have been bad, it is often an excuse for being ‘really bad’.
  • “Screw you, Dr. Oz, I’m having the whole effing cake”.  Tribole and Resch called this the ‘forget-you’ mentality, when our natural human need for autonomy comes kicks in and we find ways to rebel from the strict restrictiveness of most diets.  Human beings don’t like to be told what to do.

All of these are examples of possible over-eating that are triggered not by inability to cope with emotions, but rather backlash from a relationship with food skewered by the diet mentality.

Why is it important?  Because addressing each of these two different causes of overeating required different strategies.   If we are over-eating to cope with emotions we are going to address the situation by learning to identifying our emotions and cultivate non-food coping strategies (more about this in the weeks ahead).  However, if what is happening for you is not so much emotional eating, but rather backlash that comes from restrictive eating as described about, then a different approach is needed.  We need to excise the diet mentality from our relationship with food.

The very first principle of Intuitive Eating is to Reject the Diet Mentality (also a cornerstone of the Health at Every Size framework).  In order to do this, you must be willing to objectively look at diets, how successful they have been for others and for yourself (95% percent failure rate!), the damage they can do physically and emotionally, and even how the seductive lure of thinness they promise is nothing more than the ultimate advertising gimmick that is feeling a billion dollar industry.  The reality that dieting is not a path to health and rarely leads to sustained weight loss is becoming more and more accepted in the health and medical community.  However, intellectually understanding the futility of dieting and accepting it on an emotional level are two different things.  It is hard to let go of what diets promise, and the comfort they (if only temporarily) give.

If you consistently overeat, and you want to make a change it is important to reflect and really understand what is driving your overeating.  Is it is simply habit that gentle monitoring can address?  Are you eating to deal with difficult emotions?  Or, is your overeating a reaction to having been on many diets or living in a dieting obsessed world?  Once you make that determination, you are well on your way to a more positive and helpful relationship with food.


Thank you for reading my post!  

To sign up for my weekly BodyRespect e-zine, full of tips, resources and encouragement for you on your body image journey, go here.

If you would like more information about my Body Image Coaching and Counselling practice, check out my website.  I would love to connect with you!   Appointments available either online or in person if you live in Saskatoon.



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